Why is it that Christmas and Easter are the only two times during the year that you have to leave for church an hour early to get a seat? It’s sad but true. What is even sadder is the reaction that regular Mass-goers give on Easter and Christmas to others who don’t come the rest of the year.
To name a few:
- The frustrated sighs when circling the parking lot.
- The verbal complaints about the recurring pain in the feet while walking from “overflow parking” in uncomfortable shoes.
- The physical annoyance that comes with being crammed into an overcrowded pew like a circus clown into a Volkswagen.
- The spite-filled glances that family members give to people who they’ve never seen in church before.
- The anger that boils when the “new people” take the best seat, the last sprinkled donut, or “all of father’s time” on the way out.
It absolutely breaks my heart when I see people who go to church bash others for not going. It hurts me even more deeply when I see reactions like those listed above from other believers, who proclaim that they love Jesus but miss him in the flesh, in the person returning to church. It’s easy to fall into the trap, unless we realize that it is a trap.
Changing our Vision
If we claim to be Christian, we must realize what that means. It means that our idea of “justice” and “what’s fair” might not be God’s. Wasn’t it God who paid the one-hour workers the same as the full day workers (Mt. 20:1-16)? It means that when Christ, the Good Shepherd calls those “sheep” who are far from Him (Mt. 18:12) it doesn’t necessarily mean the ones “far from church.” It might mean the ones sitting in the front pew, whose hearts are far away, even though their bodies are near Him. It means that Jesus preaches peace and repentance (Eph. 2:17-18) not only to those who come to Mass twice a year, but to those who go to Mass twice a week or more. It means that we must lose any idea of what we “deserve.”
Aren’t we supposed to rejoice when the prodigal son comes home, instead of acting like the older brother who was annoyed that he didn’t get more attention, or the best seat at the party (Luke 15:28)? He was so angry that he didn’t even “enter in” to the Father’s celebration! It means that the salvation of all is important to you, not just your own salvation and that of your family.
We’re all in this together, every one of God’s creation. If you’ve ever grown angry with your brothers and sisters in faith (that’s right, your brothers and sisters), don’t be down on yourself – be up on them. Begin praying for them. Pray that their hearts would be open more than ever this year, when they return to your family table.
Be thankful to pull up a folding chair in the back, just for the chance to be at the feast. Be grateful that your extended family has come home. Welcome them with a smile, the greatest silent invitation for them to come back again. Extend a hand to them and be sure they know that they’re welcome anytime. Pray with humility (the way we always ought) and remember that you are the only sinner whose behavior you can control. In short, honor God with more than your lips, but with your hearts – focusing less on how it makes you feel, and more on what their sacrifice (however small in your mind) means to God at that moment.
How far we are from God is rarely about physical distance, but spiritual openness. If you and I are more open to God, we’ll want to be closer to Him. If we want to be closer to Him, others will see something different about us. When others see something different about us, they’ll want to know the source of our joy. When they discover the source of our joy, others will seek to know Him more personally. When the seek to know Him more personally, they’ll enter the Church. When they enter the Church and are welcomed in, they’ll come back. When they come back, they’ll continue to learn not only Who God is, but who they are not. When they realize who they are not, they’ll recognize their own need for God. And the cycle keeps on spinning. The reality is that if everyone who presently goes to Church would stop and realize where they themselves are in the above equation, we wouldn’t have to worry about the church being too small on the holidays…we’d build them even bigger from the start.
Who were the people closest to Jesus at the crucifixion? It was our Mother Mary and St. John, the two criminals and the Roman soldiers. Now, which ones do you want to be most like? Yeah me too.